Fourteen years ago, Colin Lillie arrived in Australia to travel and fell in love with the red dirt of Alice Springs.
When he flew home, he packed up his life in Scotland and moved permanently to the Red Centre.
Colin met his partner (now wife) and Indigenous artist Jacinta Price while he was in the throes of a drug and alcohol addiction.
After facing his demons, he launched himself into a music career sober and hasn’t looked back, performing for a second time at the National Celtic Festival in Portarlington from June 7-10.
“I grew up in Scotland, my mum was a lover of music, but I wouldn’t say I came from a musical background. I travelled throughout Europe and arrived in Australia on a 12 month visa nearly 15 years ago,” Colin said.
“The last place I travelled was to Alice Springs in 2004 where there was an open mic night. It was there that I sang for the very first time, I knew how to play a little bit of guitar – so I did.
“That’s where I discovered my voice I guess, that’s where I discovered ‘Colin’. I was hiding in the Northern Territory, I found me in Alice Springs.”
Colin said when he started getting sober in 2008, he realised he wanted to pursue music and despite being surrounded by his “poison” remained clean.
“In the beginning I’d be sitting in a pub with my poison (alcohol) around me, waiting to perform. It was tough but the more I move forward with my career the farther away from the bad it gets. I’ve been sober now for 11 years,” he said.
“In this industry a lot of people ask how I maintain my sobriety: alcohol and drugs are often used to deal with stress and for socialising. I grew up with the saying ‘you can’t trust a bloke that doesn’t drink’.
“But I’ve chosen a career where people are often battling their inner voices, and I’ve learnt you have to deal with them.”
His debut album Glass Homes in 2016 was recorded and produced by Mark Myers in his Cairns studio and the album’s first single “Give Thanks” won the NT Song of the Year (Blues and Roots).
Having spent 13 years in Alice Springs, Colin said his debut appearance at last year’s National Celtic Festival was truly unforgettable, reminding him of his own rich heritage.
“Last year was the very first time at the National Celtic Festival and it was one of the most beautiful things. My wife is Aboriginal, living in the desert you’re engulfed in two different cultures (local Indigenous and broader Australian) and I forgot that I’m from a rich culture too.
“It was one of the most amazing experiences to remember my own cultural background of songs and storytelling. To hear other people with my accent and be accepted for who I am. I was truly humbled to be invited back this year to perform.”
For tickets, the program and more information go to nationalcelticfestival.com.